TGIF: Lonely in a Crowd

Today, Paula Light talks about loneliness in her TGIF post and I thought I’d follow suit. There is this weird feeling when you feel loneliest when surrounded by a roomful of people. I’ve been feeling this way lately.

It’s not as bad as it was during my high school years, when I felt isolated in the full cafeteria because I knew no-one wanted to talk to me. I mean, back then, especially in the first year, classmates were assigned to guide me through the building and I’d be sitting during lunch break with whoever was my guide for the day. It was very obvious that most if not all classmates didn’t want me there.

The situation is different now. My fellow residents definitely do seem to want me in the living room with them. Several ask when I’m coming to have coffee there again as opposed to in my room. Some specifically come out of their rooms to join me when they hear my voice. In short, it isn’t that I’m unwanted.

And in a sense, it isn’t that I can’t connect either, although that’s probably more where my loneliness is coming from. I struggle to strike up conversations with my fellow clients especially when more than one person is talking at the same time and even more so when the staff are having a separate conversation among themselves. I also get overloaded really easily, but don’t tend to notice until it’s too late. As a result, I struggle with a need for connection but also a need for a sensory-friendly environment and these often clash. Lately, I’ve chosen connection, but I fear this will lead my staff to decide I am ready for less one-on-one support. I don’t want to be seen as too demanding of attention, but when my needs clash, I really do need support to find the right balance.

Mutism or Manipulation?

When I was a teen, I’d often go mute whenever certain personal topics of discussion came up. My mental health was such a topic. Much as I wanted to speak, my mouth wouldn’t form the words I wanted to tell my teachers or other people who intended to help me.

Even though I felt intensely anxious, my silence was commonly viewed as an act of rebellion. A way of manipulating those around me into, well, I honestly don’t know what.

When my parents and high school tutor had finally agreed that I needed professional counseling – or rather, my tutor had convinced my parents of the need, I assume -, my tutor informed me that the counselor had to meet certain very specific requirements. He or she needed to know blindness, because, well, I’m blind. The second requirement, I can’t remember, but the third was that he or she had to be exceptionally intelligent. The reason for that one was the fact that I, too, was supposedly extremely intelligent. If the counselor wasn’t smart enough, my tutor explained up front, I’d outsmart them with my manipulation. By this, he meant my so-called refusal to speak.

To this day, I am still unsure as to what made him think my silence was an act of willful defiance. Of course, everyone manipulates others at times, but I am pretty sure my mutism wasn’t – still isn’t – part of it.


This post was written for today’s Word of the Day Challenge, for which the prompt is “silence”, as well as E.M.’s RWP, which is “rebellion”.

My First Crush

Hi everyone. Today’s topic for Throwback Thursday is first crushes. Let me share.

My first crush was a boy called MJ (that is, he had a double first name). I think he was a year younger than me. I was ten at the time and in the fifth grade at the school for the blind. Back then, we would always say we were like 90% in love with the other one. I don’t know where the percentages came from or if kids in other schools used them too. I certainly remember telling MJ that I had a crush on him and at that point, several kids in his class pushed me to kiss him. I gave him a quick kiss on the cheek but till this day feel intense shame about it.

I don’t remember feeling heartbreak when that “relationship” ended. It only lasted for a couple of weeks anyway. I do know that MJ passed away when I was in high school, something I didn’t find out about until many years later.

My second crush was a girl named Layla and I’m not even sure I’m spelling that right. I was fourteen at the time and had only met her once. She was in the grade below me at secondary school. At the time, I was still about as clueless about love as I’d been at age ten. After that first encounter, I never met Layla again and so I never told her I had a crush on her.

For years, I’d have fleeting crushes on various girls and boys who paid me attention, but I never told them. I never quite fantasized about having a husband (or wife, since same-sex marriage is legal here) when I’d grow up. In fact, when my now husband told me he was in love with me, I wasn’t so sure whether to reciprocate it. I did like him, but did my feelings go beyond mere friendship plus a little puppy love because he was paying me attention? In the end, it didn’t really matter, as our relationship and now our marriage is a happy one.

Report Cards and Progress Reports

Today’s topic for Throwback Thursday is report cards and progress reports. I am going to write mostly about traditional report cards in school, not the many psychological reports I had written about me during my childhood and adolescence.

Looking back, I was a good student academically, but it didn’t show on my report cards during elementary school. I attended special education and my teachers didn’t really believe I was more than just average intellectually. In fact, when I had a nationally standardized test in the sixth grade, the school’s principal called my parents in utter disbelief to tell them I had gotten a very high score. My father was like, duh, I told you so.

My behavior did get reported on. Though I had severe social and emotional challenges, I always got average ratings on those things that mattered to the teachers. I remember one day feeling disappointed when my rating on “correct behavior” had been lowered from the previous report card even though as far as I knew I hadn’t made mistakes about addressing the teachers formally.

In high school, I did get actual grades. Not letters here in the Netherlands, but numbers between one (worst) and ten (perfect). In my first year at grammar school, I got a lot of tens. These did get my classmates envious, so sometimes I’d argue for a lower grade. For instance, I had a ten on a drawing theory test and I hadn’t done any of the other drawing assignments because, well, I’m blind. Initially, I got a ten on my report card because that was the only grade I had. My classmates protested and my father and I agreed. Then the grade got lowered to an eight, reflecting the fact that I’d gotten a ten on that test and a six (barely passing) on drawing in general just for participating in the class.

Once in my third year, I was rebelling and hardly studying at all, so I did earn a few ones. One time, in my fifth year in high school (eleventh grade), I got a one in French for not doing an assignment because I’d had to do it with a partner and I hadn’t been able to find a partner, because I’d felt too anxious to ask anyone.

I wasn’t really punished harshly for failing grades or rewarded for good grades, but I did know I was expected to excel. Often, my parents made me do extra work, particularly before I was mainstreamed at grammar school.

My best subjects in elementary school were math and geography. In high school, those changed to languages, because high school math requires much more non-verbal intelligence and insight, something I don’t have. My best grade on my final high school exam was in English.

Now, as an adult, I do have an English-language blog, but I don’t think I learned to blog in high school. After all, despite the fact that grammar school is the highest level high school, I really wasn’t all that good at English after graduation. Other than English, I don’t use anything I learned in school really. I mean, during my year in special ed secondary school, textile arts was my worst subject and now I like to do macrame. Go figure.

The Wednesday HodgePodge (March 16, 2022)

Hi everyone. I have been discovering some great new memes/blog hops lately. One of them is The Wednesday HodgePodge. The idea of this meme is to answer five (semi-)random questions and then add your own random thought at the end. I say the questions are semi-random, because they do seem to have been inspired by a theme. I loved this week’s questions, so here goes.

1. It’s March 15th (Tuesday) and as the saying goes-“Beware the Ides of March”…have you read/studied much Shakespeare? Do you have a favorite Shakespeare play? How do you feel about a Caesar salad?
I haven’t studied Shakespeare at all. In fact, I don’t think I’ve actually read any of his plays and the only exposure I got to them was watching a school play of Romeo and Juliet in high school. As a result, I had no idea the expression about the Ides of March didn’t actually originate with Julius Caesar himself.

As for a Caesar salad, I do like it on occasion, but it isn’t my favorite at all.

2. Have you ever been to Rome? If so what do you love about the city? If not, any desire to go?
Well, I went to grammar school, so of course we had to visit Rome. The best aspect of it was visiting the Capitoline Museums, but only because a very daring teacher asked one of the museum employees whether I could touch the sculptures, because I am blind. Somehow we actually got permission for me to touch them with one hand. I mean, for those not familiar with them, these are 2000-year-old sculptures, for real! Two years later, when my sister, who is sighted, visited Rome, they had created replicas for blind people so that they could actually get the full experience of touching the sculptures.

3. What’s your favorite place to ‘roam’?
Switzerland. I’ve only been there once, but it’s by far my favorite place to wander about. My husband and I went there on our delayed honeymoon in the summer of 2012 and we’re fully intending on going back once COVID restrictions are lifted there.

Other than that, I’d just say my own neighborhood. I love going on walks and taking pictures as I go.

4. Do you like pizza? Thick or thin? Red sauce-white sauce-other? Your favorite toppings? How do you feel about pineapple on a pizza?
I love pizza! Usually I prefer a thick crust, but I love a good Italian-style pizza too. I love both red and white sauce. My favorite toppings include salami, chicken, bell peppers, red onions, red peppers, etc. I don’t care for pineapple on a pizza but it’s not that I wouldn’t eat it either.

5. ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’…tell us how this expression applies to something in your home-life-job currently (or recently)?
Well, I have a ton of larger craft projects that I’ve gotten started on and that I really wish I could’ve finished in a day, but that’s just not working.

6. Insert your own random thought here.
All this talk about pizza has me craving good food, even though I just had lunch. Thankfully, I’m going to cook pilav later this afternoon. I also had the most amazing Indonesian takeout food yesterday. A staff brought me some and it was truly the best Asian food I’d ever had.

#IWSG: A Tribute to My High School Tutor

IWSG
Insecure Writer’s Support Group Badge

Today is the first Wednesday of the month and my regular readers know what this means: it’s time for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group (#IWSG) to meet. I just got an authorization for the latest JAWS, my screen reader, which turns out to support the WordPress block editor, so I’m trying that out now as I type.

I did quite well in the writing department over the month of January, having published 29 blog posts, including a poem and a piece of flash fiction. For February, I signed up for #Write28Days, so my main goal is to write a post for that challenge each day.

Now on to this month’s optional question. For the month of February, we are asked to share about someone who supported or influenced us in our writing who isn’t around anymore. Immediately, my thoughts went to my high school tutor. Even as I type this, I am still not sure whether I want to name him by his full name, as in general my relationship with him was tainted by the many conflicting interests he had to juggle as my high school tutor and the assistant principal, with me being the only student with a major disability in his mainstream school. That being said, he was a major supporter of my writing.

I must explain here that he wasn’t originally my tutor from the start, but my original tutor went on long-term sick leave, never to return, shortly before winter break my second year in this school in the middle of eighth grade. The teacher I talk about here became my tutor shortly after the winter break. In one of our first one-on-one tutor-student talks, he asked me about my hobbies I think and we somehow got talking about writing. He asked if he could read one of my stories and I eagerly agreed. I think I even wrote an original story specifically to show him.

This story was rather autobiographically-based, but not so clearly so that it could be transferred one-to-one into my school situation. My tutor did immediately notice the autobiographical elements though.

I was quite a troubled teen and struggled greatly, being multiply-disabled in a mainstream school. Sometimes, I struggled to speak. Over the years, my tutor encouraged me to write things down when I couldn’t speak, be it in fictionalized form or not. Once I got a public online diary, which later morphed into a blog, I permitted my tutor to read it, reasoning that, since it’s public, he shouldn’t even have to ask my permission.

He remained my tutor until I graduated high school in 2005. He also was the one arranging for me to go to the blindness training center after graduation, even though he full on knew this meant I couldn’t go to university right away then.

Sadly, about a year after my graduation, my now former tutor was diagnosed with cancer. He did live for another about ten years and did make it to the reunion in celebration of my high school existing 100 years in 2013. I, though, did not. My tutor died in 2016.

I am not sure whether my tutor felt I was a good writer per se. He might have thought, like my parents did during my teens, that I was overly self-centered in my writing. If he did though, he didn’t say so. In any case, he was one of the people who, whether he wanted to or not, influenced me to be a regular blogger.

Superstitions

Today’s topic for Throwback Thursday is superstitions, amulets and charms. I had quite many growing up, but not most of the usual ones. Let me share.

My sister was born on Friday the 13th, so no-one in our family dare believe this to be an unlucky day. However, I had quite a few lucky and unlucky days particularly as a teen. Friday the 24th was unlucky, for example. The reason was the fact that on Friday, September 24, 1999, I had realized that I wasn’t going to fit in at mainstream high school and was most likely going to struggle through it all of the six years it lasted. I was determined to make school a success though, and indeed I graduated. I earned my diploma on another Friday the 24th, namely June 24, 2005. Maybe it wasn’t such an unlucky day after all.

Like I’ve said before, I believed particular dates to be lucky or unlucky too. November 2 was unlucky. Again, this was the date I landed in crisis, twice, both times on Fridays, in 2001 and 2007.

Like Friday the 13th, I didn’t hold any of the other usual superstitions either. I never struggled to walk under a ladder, to walk on cracks in the pavement and wasn’t worried when a black cat crossed my path. I did get an old horseshoe at a horse stable once and kept it. My father told me it was supposed to bring good luck, but I never hung it anywhere.

As a child, I did keep fortune-telling charms. I used to have a particular blue, glass stone with a flat and a curved side and used to ask it yes-or-no questions, then throw it. If it landed flat on its back, the answer was yes and if it landed curved side down, the answer was no. Of course, now I know it is far more likely to land flat on its back.

I also would make a wish if I was able to peel off a tangerine’s peel in one go. I know the traditional thing is about oranges, but I never ate those. Then when I’d pulled off the tangerine’s peel, the number of slices I would be able to keep together predicted how likely my wish was to come true.

Now that I’m an adult, I no longer hold many superstitions. I did have a long-standing belief for most of my adult life that I was in for bad luck eventually. This specifically involved the idea that, once I’d feel secure at a living place, I’d develop some serious illness and die. Over the past year, I’ve slowly been able to let go of this belief. My faith helps me in this respect too.

Are you superstitious?

Friends and Buddies

This week’s topic for Throwback Thursday is friendship. I was never really good at making friends. I still don’t have any real friends other than my husband. I mean, of course I could consider some of my fellow clients “friends”, but our relationship isn’t as deep as that of normal adult friendships.

In early childhood, I did have one friend. Her name was Kim and we used to make mud castles together. Or anything out of sand and water really. Kim’s last name translates to “peat” and my father used to jokingly call her “Kim Mud” rather than “Kim Peat”.

When I went to the special school for the visually impaired at the age of five, I started in a first grade class despite being of Kindergarten age. All girls in my class were at least a year older than me and they enjoyed “babysitting” me. In exchange, for the next three years, I’d help them with their schoolwork.

By the age of nine, I transferred to a different school for the blind. Though I did have a friend there, I was also an outcast and got heavily bullied.

My best time socially was my one year at the special ed secondary school for the blind. I had one good friend there, but also got along pretty well with everyone else in my class and most kids in my school in general.

All that changed when I entered mainstream high school at the age of thirteen. Within a month, everyone had formed cliques except for me. A few months later, my favorite clique took me under their wing and pretended to be my friends, only to drop me again when they’d had enough of me. I was friendless for the remainder of the six-year program. I didn’t really care. Or maybe I did, but I was determined to show my parents and teachers that I could earn a mainstream high level high school diploma. And I did. Not that I use it for anything now, but oh well.

Another topic mentioned in the Throwback Thursday post title at least is buddies. This reminds me of the autistic student buddy program I was part of during my two months of attending university. This program assigned a psychology student volunteer buddy to an autistic student to help the autistic with planning their coursework or other activities related to their studies. It worked in theory, but the catch was that these buddies were volunteers helping only with certain things for one or two hours a week at most. At the time, you couldn’t get paid support workers for assistance related to college or university studies, as the reasoning was that if you could be a student in college or uni, you should be able to do the planning and related tasks yourself. Needless to say my buddy got overwhelmed within a week. I feel intensely sorry for her.

The reason I mention this, besides it being in the post title, is the fact that I realize I struggle to maintain a distinction between social and professional relationships and, with the buddy, things got even muddier. I mean, friendships are supposed to be reciprocal, while professional relationships are not. For this reason, I am allowed to unload my shit to a professional without needing to listen to theirs. Professionals, however, get paid, while friends don’t. With the buddy, the situation got complicated, in that my fellow students called on my buddy to calm me when I was in a meltdown. That clearly wasn’t her role.

This thing about lack of reciprocity, however, also probably killed off that mainstream high school friendship I pretended to have. I don’t blame myself entirely though: my so-called “friends” also felt obligated to hang out with me out of pity, and that’s never a good reason to be someone’s friend.

How I Cope With Loneliness

Today in her Sunday Poser, Sadje asks us about loneliness. She describes the experience as the feeling she gets when her family or friends can’t celebrate something important (such as the seasonal holidays) with her. This is one aspect of loneliness indeed. I feel lonely, left out even, knowing that my sister will be celebrating St. Nicholas with my parents next week and I haven’t been invited. Okay, she has a child for whom this holiday is more meaningful than it should be for me as an adult. Still, I am reminded of the last year we celebrated St. Nicholas with my family, or rather, the first year we didn’t. That was because of me: I had been admitted to the mental hospital shortly before and my parents didn’t want the hassle of having to watch me while I was on leave, so at first they suggested they celebrate the occasion without me. That year, my sister refused and the celebration didn’t go forward at all. Now that my sister has a child, there’s no way she’s going to care about whether I’ll be included or not. In fact, I’m pretty sure she’d rather have me excluded.

Loneliness, however, can take other forms too. Like I mentioned last month, loneliness comes from within a lot of the time. That’s why you can feel lonely when you’re surrounded by people. I often felt this way in the high school cafeteria.

I find that what helps me cope with loneliness is to surround myself with positive influences, both in the form of people and activities. I mean, I could dwell on my family’s rejection of me, but I do have a loving husband and loving in-laws. I also have caring staff and nice fellow clients, some of whom I consider friends.

It also helps me to engage in fulfilling hobbies, such as writing, reading and crafts. Through my blog and Facebook groups, I feel a genuine sense of connection to the outside world. Reading helps me escape my problems, including my sense of isolation. Crafts distract me and help me feel that I can be productive in a way. All of these help me overcome my sense of loneliness.

How do you deal with loneliness?

How Far I’ve Come #SoCS

SoCS Badge 2019-2020

Today’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday is “Where”. Linda, the host, is probably referring to the 9/11 terrorist attacks and where we all were at the time when she says that she has a feeling the subject of many posts will be the same. I, though, think I already shared where I was during the 9/11 attacks. I was in my room, writing in my diary about being used for a reality TV show. I mean, in the taxi home from school, I was secretly filmed while talking to the taxi driver and then was asked to consent later to it being shown on TV. I obviously refused. I was only fifteen. My mother said they should’ve picked someone at least five years older than me.

I don’t want to revisit that day though. Instead, I want to reflect on where I came from and how far I’ve come in those twenty years since the attacks.

On 9/11, I was in the ninth grade at grammar school or a classics-oriented high level high school in my city. I was being mainstreamed despite being multiply-disabled, because my parents believed I was just blind and oh so intelligent (which they considered a disability too in some ways, but it really isn’t).

Two months after the attacks, on November 2, 2001, I experienced a major mental crisis, which was of course brushed off by my parents. Six years later exactly, I did land in the hospital when experiencing another crisis.

I spent 9 1/2 years in the psychiatric system, 2 1/2 years living with my husband because the psychologist at my last psych unit felt I was misusing care and should be living independently. Then I went into long-term care. It’ll have been two years on the 23rd.

In a sense, I’ve only deteriorated in those twenty years. On 9/11, I proudly told that taxi driver how I was doing being mainstreamed as a blind person in a high level high school. Twenty years on, I live in a facility with people with severe to profound intellectual disabilities. Even then, I’m the one who needs the most care, getting one-on-one most of the time.

In another sense though, I’ve come a long way. I’ve definitely become more like me, the real me, who doesn’t care what her parents or teachers or support staff for that matter think she’s supposed to be like.